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Closers: Old Faces in New Places

Posted By Howard Bender On March 3, 2011 @ 10:15 am In Closers | 3 Comments

Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  So I’ll stay in my niche here today and continue with more of the well traveled players.  By my count, we’ve got 27 players officially named the closer on their respective teams and of those guys, 3 of them have been imported from another club.  It looks like one of them is headed towards being a valuable fantasy commodity, but the other two might have a few bumps in the road.

Frank Francisco, Toronto Blue Jays

To say that I was shocked to hear that the Jays not only traded for Francisco, but named him their closer, would be an understatement.  Do they not remember the complete and utter meltdown in the second half of 2009?  It’s not like he dazzled anyone with his 3.76 ERA last year to erase the nightmare from the year before, did he?  Sure, he’s got a decent K/9, but Francisco has been more of a fly ball pitcher over the years, was sporting a HR/FB ratio of 9.1% last season and is moving from one hitter’s park to another.  Sure, the Rogers Centre may be a little better than the Ballpark at Arlington, but not by much when it comes to the long ball.

My lack of faith also stems from the fact that both Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch could easily supplant Francisco here.  Both have their pros and their cons, but each has spent time as a successful closer on former teams.  Francisco may get the nod here in the beginning, but the leash will be short.  Any sign of the pitcher we saw back in ’09 and he’s headed right back to set up duty.

Kevin Gregg, Baltimore Orioles

Perhaps the reason that Gregg finds himself on his fourth team in four years isn’t because of the volatile free agent market for relievers, but because there is really nothing that special about him.  His career 8.32 K/9 isn’t all that impressive, nor is his lifetime 4.03 ERA.  Still though, he seems to get the job done and, while no official announcement has been made by the Orioles, Gregg seems primed to post his 5th consecutive 20+ save season.

Similarly to Francisco, Gregg joins a bullpen that already has some closing experience.  Mike Gonzalez always seems to find his way in to the saves mix if he’s healthy, and Koji Uehara did an admirable job for the Birds in the latter part of the 2010 season.  However, Gregg seems to have more of an edge as he throws a lot more ground balls than the other two (important for Camden Yards) and his resume impresses Buck Showalter.  It’s not a lot, but it may be enough to win the job to start the season.  Keep an eye on the situation throughout the spring, though, as things could change if someone slips up.

J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks

Finally, a player I’m excited about.  Putz had a fantastic comeback season last year with the White Sox and earned himself a 2 year, $10M contract from the Diamondbacks to act their their closer.  His 2.83 ERA and 1.03 WHIP were both impressive given his arm troubles from the year before, as was his 2.52 FIP.   But even more impressive was his ability to keep the ball in the park as he allowed just 4 HR in 54 innings of work while calling the launching pad known as U.S. Cellular home.  He posted a solid 10.83 K/9, had a 1.25 GB/FB and held the opposition to a measly .204 batting average.  He was a dark horse candidate to take over the the closer’s role in Chicago last year, but Ozzie Guillen’s favoring of Matt Thornton and the emergence of Chris Sale quickly squashed that notion.

Now Putz moves onto Arizona where he should fare extremely well.  Aside from is 94 mph fastball, he’s been using his split finger a little more and has also increased the use of his slider.  That should keep NL batters who haven’t seen too much of him off balance and guessing.  He’s not my number one target out there amongst the closers, but I feel more secure with him than numerous other choices out there.


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